Marvick, Louis - The Friendly Examiner
“Death behind us, death ahead of us. Ruins above ground, and tombs underneath.” (from V2)
Enlightenment vies with religious dogma and superstition in an isolated village beset with mysterious and horrifying deaths.
M. Sperling is sent to Heilbrunn to investigate, ascertain the truth, and dispel any cobwebs of irrational fear.
The initial volume (and these are all slim) sets us into the Age Of Reason, circa 1760, with M. Sperling, agent for the Society of the Men of Letters (think the Republic of Letters), setting forth to verify reports from another member.
This playful tale serves to introduce Hippolyte Sperling, as he must deal with an ill-garbed, ill smelling hag who shares his coach, and then face a deadlier presence waiting at the far shore.
The second volume probes the disappearance of a key member of the Society. Denis Diderot.
Ostensibly toiling on his ”Encyclopedia” the philosopher is drawn into the cult of tombs.
More members of the Society are introduced and several narratives unfold as M. Sperling delves into the subterranean underbelly of society.
This was my favorite volume, and the one I found problematic. It ends with a cliffhanger, and what turns out to be a false trail. I found this puzzling, if not irksome. The road not traveled and whatnot. I long for a mild edit.
The third and perhaps final volume unveils a savior / scoundrel. Franz Mesmer. This episode, featuring Mesmer either as emissary of new science or honey tongued deceiver, contains a fair amount of action. Indeed, high adventure bookends this tale!
These are works of illumination – and darkness. Of understanding – and ignorance.
Of those who attempt to improve our daily situation – of those who would diminish our potential, enslave us to their will.
Fortunately, The Friendly Examiner is set centuries earlier. Current society has progressed beyond such warfare and our freedoms are secure.